NORMAN — It’s a strange thing.
Oklahoma hired a new baseball coach Thursday, and in its accompanying press release announcing Pete Hughes as Sunny Golloway’s successor was a page headed, “What They’re Saying About Pete Hughes.”
LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri, if you can believe it, said, “Joe Castiglione has done it again, Pete Hughes is a ‘Grand Slam’ of a hire for the University of Oklahoma.”
Connecticut baseball coach Jim Penders said, “Pete Hughes left Brockton, Mass., a long time ago, but the ‘City of Champions’ hasn’t left him.”
Broadcaster Sean McDonough said, “Pete Hughes is an outstanding coach and an even better person.”
Miami Dolphin coach Joe Philbin said, “Oklahoma has made an excellent choice.”
It’s all so unnecessary.
Does anybody really talk the way Mainieri would have us believe he talks? Who knew Brockton was the City of Champions? McDonough calls a mean game, but is he a college baseball authority?
Once upon a time, Hughes and Philbin coached football together at Northeastern University. It’s an interesting connection, but how much baseball credibility does an NFL coach have?
The best thing Hughes has going for him is a track record of success and a persona that would have you believe he’s earned every bit of it.
He parlayed two seasons at Division III Trinity into the Boston College job, where, once there, he used to talk his way into Fenway Park at no charge just to watch batting practice before leaving.
He turned the Eagles into a winner before jumping to Virgina Tech where, after going 46-63 his first two seasons, he went 176-111 over his next five, his last game a loss to OU at the Blacksburg Regional.
“I know what some of you are thinking out there,” Hughes said upon taking the lectern Thursday. “If you can’t beat them, join them.”
He appeared earnest, reverent, humble and straightforward and his favorite verb may be “hustle.” One gets the sense he believes he’s made it as far as he has, at previously challenged programs, by outworking the competition.
But if Sooner fans want something to hold onto, begin with Hughes’ recruiting philosophy and move on to his embrace of the program and it’s history. Not one faction or another, but all of it.
Many coaches move from school to school, relying on the same geographic pod or the same long-held connections to get the majority of their players. Hughes is plenty connected, but his style is home grown.
“I’ve always wanted to coach at a school were you were the institution in the region … This is the state university, and it’s in one of the most fertile baseball grounds in the country,” he said. “Oklahoma, bordering Texas. If we have to go outside of that, then something’s wrong.
“It will be an inside out philosophy.”
Take a look at OU’s roster and the geographic make-up already reflects a similar philosophy. What’s telling is what it says about Hughes.
His last band of Hokies included nine Virginians, four Floridians, four players from Massachusetts, three from New Jersey and three from Connecticut.
He’s just not going to rely on old connections in his new job.
“You better take care of what’s in region … You better take care of Oklahoma ties … I’ve always done that,” he said. “When I was at Virginia Tech, when I was at Boston College, I did the same thing. Did we win all the recruiting wars in the region? No. If we did, I wouldn’t (have been) on a plane every weekend.”
He did what he could locally and expanded when he had to. He worked hard.
Also, he’s prepared to bring people together.
“I’m a hard-working, honest guy who’s going to work tirelessly for this university and this program,” he said. “We’re going to play hard, play with class and it’s going to be a product that alums from any age group, any era, any faction are going to love being a part of.”
One of those eras was represented in the crowd at his introduction, which was part press conference, yet also a chance to put Hughes in front of his new co-workers and at least one longtime Sooner baseball hand.
Larry Cochell was there, breaking in a new knee but looking terrific, happy to hold court again with old friends and media who once covered his teams.
Cochell and Hughes didn’t know each other prior to Thursday, but the new coach was asked about the old coach anyway.
“He’s going to be a part of our program, I know that,” he said. “He’s going to feel welcome.”
That’s the way you treat people. With an open door, wide enough to let everybody into the fold.
It has to help.
Follow me @clayhorning